The Mirrors (part thirty-seven)
Charmante thought the Breedloves would live off a side street, and here were only businesses. Conspicuous as she was dressed, she expected a small wave of news to precede her. She must get the address from whatever of these places showed life.
Not this, number 818, whitewashed glass and padlock…
A café would be ideal…how good to have a cup of coffee…
But a sundry, a barber shop…
She stopped before a girdled truncation of hips and thighs, two headless torsos sporting scaffolded bustiers. Madame LaMode, said the window. It would be comforting to ask a woman, but Charmante felt that if she entered, she would need to buy something.
French Teddies, a hand-lettered sign offered, first to catch her eye.
“Hello-o…!” came a voice.
The proprietor was found squatting under a rack, unpacking a box. Charmante stretched a hand to her. The oh, dear hadn’t been for stiff knees…it was for Charmante herself.
“There! You look very nice. You don’t make your own dresses, do you?”
The woman stepped back, stepped around, her question not an insult.
“I do, mostly. Not this one.”
“No.” Thoughtful. “If I were choosing for myself, I would do a full skirt, yes. A belt gives a figure.”
She ushered Charmante by the elbow, to a fully-limbed mannequin. “The Regine. You see she’s not a bit like your mother’s stays. Like a second skin, dear.” She patted Charmante’s hip.
These merchants, in their way, counted as neighbors. Charmante worked on Dumain and could, if she liked, walk down to browse. A dollar half-slip had been the hasty plan. A little conversation, before she committed to a ten-dollar girdle. Even one a sumptuous rose-pink…
And made in Paris—
No, it seemed mad. It seemed almost a test. “I work for Mr. Rothesay. At the other end of Dumain.”
She might. Charmante gave another fact. “My father was Dr. Bonheur…you may remember him.”
“Oh, I know Mrs. Turner very well. I’ll take you up to her one day. She’s been retired twenty years now.”
Low-voiced and knowing. Ah! But Charleton had explained Mrs. Turner.
“Why, dear. What a look you had on your face this minute!”
“My name is Charmante Demorest. I wonder if you can give me the address of a Mrs. Jane Breedlove. If you know her…?”
“My daughter-in-law, dear. I have a telephone in the office. And I,” the woman added, pushing off along an aisle of satin robes, “am Gloria.”
William did not enviably have a phone, but the Breedloves shared a metered one with the upstairs and downstairs tenants.
“Are you cooking, love? Or do you want to go to Main’s? She says…” Gloria perched the talking end while a voice was heard, the operator’s, asking for a deposit of five cents. “We’ll all walk down, have a cup of coffee, you meet everyone. Albert, my son, gets his lunch at eleven. Now, you know Main’s, Mrs. Demorest, that cafeteria just on the corner of Main and Dumain…”
Gloria added argument in the way of one—also with the eye of one—who can’t believe your feet aren’t moving. The after-lunch arrival at Rothesay’s might prove fatal to Charmante’s good references, but of priorities, she preferred this. The Breedloves were making an occasion of her visit.
Charmante sat liking William in his suitcoat and tie. Each had a shy glance for the other. Albert, still lowering to his seat, was on a theme. That hurricane making plenty of work, even here in April, swept off those white trash shacks down the river…
And God bless’em, if they take up someplace else, no one wishing ill on anyone.
“Oh, hush,” Jane said.
Charmante smiled for Albert. Reminded of Brasher, her telltale face had altered. “But the skies all this spring, just evil looking, don’t you think?”
“Oh, hon!” Jane said this time.
Charmante was joining in, in a friendly way, trying…overwhelmed at being wanted by William’s sister. In the family.
Somehow she was there already. On Albert’s crew was a man who had lived through Galveston. “So they climbed on the roof and got another ways up, onto a hotel, used boards or just anything floating to get themselves across. Awnings going up and down like lungs, that’s how he put it. That was the bodies, the folks, and the cows and horses, caught under and moving with the tide.”
Silent attention to pie. Galveston was close to the time of the riot. Gloria, segueing on the strength of it, brought back Mrs. Turner. “She has always had kindly things to say about Dr. Bonheur.”
“I’d like so much to sit down with her.”
A gift, Charmante thought. A keepsake? Something home baked…
She weighed it. And then it was time to go.
To Rothesay’s, they walked side by side, a Sunday couple on a weekday afternoon.
“Come in, back to the kitchen, William. Because I have an important thing to tell you. A story of Esta’s.”
Dishes belonging in cabinets sat in grease on the stove, worrying her. Either of her charges might be innocent enough to put a bowl on a burner.
“Listen for a minute. Do you hear them?”
William shook his head. “I’ll turn my chair and keep an eye up the passage.”
(2020, Stephanie Foster)